When Omer Belisle’s family physician in Nipigon sent him to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre for a routine heart stress test, he wasn’t worried. “I thought I was in pretty good shape,” Omer said. The day before the test, he and his wife Leonie went canoeing on the lake. He even had a walk after, and felt no symptoms whatsoever.
So when Dr. Christopher Lai told him after a series of tests that he had at least three blocked arteries to his heart, Omer said it came as a huge surprise. Dr. Lai referred him to the Hamilton General Hospital for heart surgery. Omer felt so good, he thought he would just be going home to wait in Nipigon until his operation. But he was wrong.
“Dr. Lai said, ‘See that line on your palm? That’s how much room is left for the blood to get to your heart in one of your arteries,’” Omer said. “My heart was a bomb ready to explode.”
Omer was immediately admitted to the Hospital. Leonie stayed with him in Thunder Bay and made the trip down to Hamilton with him. She is originally from Niagara Falls, so at least she was in familiar surroundings. But Leonie knows that not everyone is comfortable navigating big cities in southern Ontario. “There’s nothing like being home and close to family,” Leonie said.
It’s better for the family, too. Their daughter Wendy Landry, who is the Mayor of Shuniah and on the executive cabinet for the Our Hearts at Home Cardiovascular Campaign, said she wished they didn’t have to go away for such an important procedure.
“It would have been a lot easier if they had been here,” Wendy said. “One of my brothers and I live in Thunder Bay, so we could both have supported my mother while my father was in surgery. We could have had a lot of family and friends around to help.”
Travelling long distances can also lead to delays, especially in winter. Omer said his surgery was pushed back hours due to travel delays on the way to Hamilton. Luckily, Omer was stable so the delays weren’t life threatening. But in emergency situations, waiting for weather or mechanical issues can be much more serious for the patient.
Omer has yearly checkups and everything is fine now. But the memory of having to leave the region for surgery is still with him.
“It put a strain on us,” Omer said. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to travel for heart surgery until you experience it yourself. It would have been better to have support from your family.”
“That’s why we want to help bring that same surgery here to Thunder Bay,” Omer said. The Our Hearts at Home Cardiovascular Campaign will ensure our Hospital has world-class heart and vascular surgery so patients can get the care they need right here in the region.
Let’s keep more patients here at home where they belong! Please donate to the Our Hearts at Home Cardiovascular Campaign at OurHeartsAtHome.ca or call our Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673.